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Matthews previews JFK book

These days, the crisp, clear air of mid-October carries a frightening memory for many of us.

These days, the crisp, clear air of mid-October carries a frightening memory for many of us. It was on these days in 1962 - just short of a half century ago - that America and the world stood on the precipice of nuclear war.  All the conditions were set for the United States and the Soviet Union to engage in an all-out assault of nuclear weapons against each other.

It came so close - so frighteningly close that in a strange, paradoxical way - that neither country ever wanted to come this close again.  In a terrible way it saved us from the very planetary hell to which it came horribly close to delivering us.

On the eve of the congressional elections in 1962, the Soviet Union began installing offensive nuclear weapons in Cuba.  On October 16, President Kennedy was showed the aerial photographs.

The first impulse was to bomb the missile sites.  In the next, a more sophisticated plan, the Joint Chiefs called for an all-out invasion of the island.

President Kennedy saw the dangers.  If the United States attacked Cuba, it would kill many of the Soviet advisors and troops stationed there.  What would Chairman Nikita Khrushchev do in response?   If he moved to take West Berlin, which he'd had just warned he would do, the United States would have but one option. With the Red Army surrounding us in Berlin, our relatively small force of ground troops would be soundly overrun.  We would be faced with the need to use nuclear weapons to prevent such an historic, humiliating rout of our key outpost in Western Europe.

Kennedy knew all this, and saw the chain reaction that an attack on Cuba would begin.  He ended the crisis by a combination of an open naval blockade and a secret agreement to remove U.S. nuclear missiles from Turkey.

Had he taken the course recommended by the military and other Cold War experts, the consequence would have been a planetary holocaust.  

We now know that Khrushchev planned to hit New York with whatever nuclear missiles survived in Cuba after an American attack.

"There wouldn't be much of New York left," he wrote in his memoirs. "I don't mean to say everyone in New York would be killed - not everyone, of course, but an awful lot of people would be wiped out."

We would have been forced, of course, to retaliate. 

Fortunate for the history of mankind we had a president who saw the movement of events toward global catastrophe and, through vision and force of will, found a way to deliver us from the worst evil in human history: global nuclear war. 

Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero.  You can get it in stores November first, or pre-order now on